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O.C. Women’s Teams Dominate State Field

The strength of Orange Empire Conference women’s basketball was proved beyond a doubt Saturday.

That night, three teams--Golden West, Cypress and Orange Coast--earned berths in the eight-team State tournament, which starts Thursday at Solano College in Suisun City.

The teams ended up in the same place, but each took a different path to get there. Here’s a look at the teams and how they reached the State tournament:

Golden West (31-4): Talk was the Rustlers were in trouble this season. Kristin Brun was back at one guard position, but otherwise the Rustlers were unproven. Co-coaches Dave and Dick Stricklin said the best they had hoped for was to contend for the conference title.

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Instead, Golden West, calling on hustle and unity, spent much of the season as the top-ranked team in Southern California. The Rustlers not only contended but also won their fifth consecutive conference title. This is Golden West’s eighth consecutive trip to the State tournament.

When asked if his team should have done as well as it has, Dave Stricklin said: “Probably not. As far as pure athletic talent goes, we don’t have one player that could go to another program and turn it around.”

Deana Itow, a freshman guard, is averaging 17 points and freshman forward Julie Murdent is at 15. Katie Miner averaged eight rebounds and Brun has averaged five assists and is making 79% of her free throws.

Cypress (24-9): Cypress won eight games in the three seasons before Kevin Kiernan took over as coach last season. The Chargers went 13-15 in his first year, and figured to improve on that this season. But few expected this much success. This is the program’s first appearance in the State tournament.

One of the main reasons Cypress has done so well is freshman forward Sara Works, who has emerged into one of the best post players in Southern California.

Works, the co-most valuable player of the Orange Empire Conference, is at 20 points and nine rebounds. She averaged 27 points and 12 rebounds in two playoff games.

Cypress is a forward-dominated team, thanks to Works and sophomores Jennifer Johnson and Yolanda Hearvey. Johnson is averaging 10 points and six rebounds.

Hearvey, a swing player, is averaging 10 points and eight rebounds. She holds the Cypress career rebounding record with 566.

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“The girls are very excited,” Kiernan said. “We just need to remember we still have some basketball left to play, otherwise it will be a short trip.”

Orange Coast (21-12): The Pirates earned their first berth in the State tournament last season but didn’t figure to return this season. LeAnn Kazmer was the only returning starter. Kazmer, from Wisconsin, averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds, both best in the conference. She was the co-MVP, with Cypress’ Works.

Kazmer holds the OCC single-season record for rebounds with 331. She needs 16 to break the career rebounding record set by Erika Manning (1989-91). America Robledo, a freshman forward, is averaging 14 points and seven rebounds and freshman guard Flo Luppani is averaging 6.8 assists.

Orange Coast Coach Mike Thornton said he’s most proud of the way his team came back after losing to Golden West in overtime, then at Riverside by one point in the first round of conference play.

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“To get it back together after those two difficult losses,” Thornton said. “That’s what I’m most proud of. I’m pretty happy right now.”

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The pairings: The tournament starts Thursday with Los Angeles Harbor (28-6) playing two-time defending State champion Lassen (26-6) at 2 p.m. Cypress takes on Butte (28-3) at 4 p.m., Golden West 31-4) plays Merritt (29-4) at 6 p.m. and Orange Coast (21-12) plays San Mateo (30-2) at 8 p.m.

The semifinals are at 6 and 8 p.m. Friday and the title game is at 8 p.m. Saturday. San Mateo is the top-ranked team in the state.

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“I don’t mind playing (San Mateo) at all,” Thornton said. “I think we have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

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Men’s basketball: Saddleback (22-8) plays host to Rio Hondo at 7 p.m. in Wednesday’s second-round Southern California playoff games. This is the third consecutive year the teams have met in the playoffs. Saddleback won the previous two.

The Gauchos’ gym will be nothing new to first-year Rio Hondo Coach Ernie Carr, who was the Saddleback interim coach in the 1988-89 season when Bill Brummel was on a sabbatical. Rio Hondo is 18-15.

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Rancho Santiago (21-11) is off to top-ranked Ventura (32-2) for the second consecutive season in a 7:30 p.m. game. Ventura eliminated the Dons, 111-83, last season, also in the second round.

Fullerton (24-10) is at Los Angeles City (26-5) at 7:30 p.m. in the other second-round game involving an Orange County team.


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